It wasn’t always pretty, but the USMNT got the job done on Wednesday against Panama to secure the top spot in Group D. Games against Panama at the Gold Cup tend to be ugly rock fights and this last game was no different as the US got out with a 1-0 and advances to the quarterfinals in Philadelphia on Sunday. Their opponent is a team that has made waves at this tournament after making their debut in it two years ago. That team is Curacao.
As far as USA/Panama games at the Gold Cup go, Wednesday night’s game was pretty much par for the course. A very physical game with a number of horror tackles by the Panamanians that went totally unpunished by the referee, with a goal that seemed to come out of nothing. Joy Altidore got back onto the scoresheet for the US for the first time since 2017 (funnily enough that game was also against Panama). Perhaps most surprising about Altidore getting the goal, was not the fact that it was a bicycle kick (which was epic) but the fact that it was a goal that mattered in a game that mattered (ie a goal in a game that wasn’t a friendly and one where the score wasn’t already lopsided). Gregg Berhalter opted to change the starting XI entirely (as well as giving the captain’s armband to the third different player through the three group stage games), and despite getting the only goal of the game there is some doubt about whether Altidore will be able to unseat Gyasi Zardes as the new manager’s favorite up top. Nobody else really made much of an impression on the game, outside of Matt Miazga distributing the ball brilliantly on a few occasions. Sean Johnson had little to do in goal and there’s no reason to think that Zack Steffen won’t be back in there for the quarter-final game against Curacao.
This may be Curacao’s second Gold Cup appearance ever, but they have given a good account of themselves and surprised a number of people. Two years ago they were in a group with Mexico, Jamaica, and El Salvador. They finished bottom of the group and lost all three games by a score of 2-0. This time around however it’s been a very different story. They qualified for this edition of the Gold Cup based on very good form in the CONCACAF Nations League (finishing 4th behind Haiti, Canada, and Martinique). They were drawn into Group C with Jamaica, El Salvador, and Honduras. One thing they will have to overcome is the enormous distance they have had to travel so far. They played their first game in Kingston, Jamaica where they fell 1-0 to El Salvador. Then they travelled all the way to Houston to get a 1-0 win over Honduras and then on to LA where they battled to a 1-1 draw with Jamaica (getting the equalizer in the 93rd minute). They finished as runners-up in the group with 4 points (ahead of El Salavador on the goal difference tie-breaker). Their roster features just one player who plays professionally in the US: Michael Maria of the Charlotte Independence in the USL. It does however, feature many more players featuring for European clubs than the US. Of the 23 players on the roster, 17 of them are based and European clubs and of those 17, 10 of them play in the Netherlands (which makes sense given that Curacao was once a Dutch colony). Players to keep an eye on are the goalkpper Eloy Room of PSV Eindhoven, Leonardo Bacuna of Cardiff City in the midfield (who leads all players with 11 goals in his 25 caps) and up front Gevaro Nepomuceno of Oldham Athletic in England has 8 goals in 39 appearances.
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